GATES BRAIN HEALTH NEWSLETTER
Welcome back! If you haven’t had a chance to listen to Dr. Gates’ podcast on The Culture of Fear, we encourage you to watch it. We are excited to share our second newsletter with you and we would appreciate any feedback!
Many parents worry that they are passing on autoimmune or anxiety tendencies to their children and have trepidation surrounding this issue. If you are concerned and you want to prevent your kids from suffering with anxiety, now or later in their lives, paying attention to their genetics is important.
The key issue discussed today is the COMT enzyme. What is COMT? It stands for Catechol-o-Methyltransferase, which we know is hard to say, but simply this enzyme breaks down adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. If you have ever been frightened or felt your hands shake while giving a speech, you have felt the effects of adrenaline. Depending on your COMT status, meaning how well that enzyme works, that affects how long and how much adrenaline or dopamine will stay in your system.
Other genes to consider include MTHFR (Vitamin B9), SERT (Serotonin Transport), and BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). However, for now we will focus on COMT.
Childhood trauma certainly changes the brain and can radically increase the chance of a child later on developing an anxiety disorder. The trauma stimulates the fear center of the brain, termed the amygdala, and unfortunately the amygdala has a probability of staying turned on at a higher level for the rest of the individual’s life. Combining trauma with poor COMT function is a predictor of more severe anxiety later in life. However, many without a history of trauma but who have high anxiety wonder why their mind is full of anxiety provoking thoughts and rumination. COMT may be the reason. More importantly, if you can help your child with their COMT function at an early age will that help their anxiety? That is the question and that is the goal we are working towards.
Getting into the nitty gritty of the COMT issue, we need to understand a few basics. Think of adrenaline or dopamine like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks is notorious for not wanting the porridge that was too hot or too cold. She wanted the porridge that was ‘Just Right.’ The same applies to adrenaline and dopamine. We don’t want too much, we don’t want too little, we want just the right amount.
If your COMT enzyme is slow, then you will have excessive dopamine or adrenaline.
If your COMT enzyme is too fast, then you will have a lack of dopamine and or adrenaline.
Slow COMT commonly refers to the WORRIER endophenotype. These individuals tend to have faster cognitive responses when they are relaxed. Yet, when they are under stressful circumstances they are prone to significantly more anxiety. This genotype is referred to as Met/Met.
The fast COMT individuals tend to be TOO RELAXED and are referred to as the WARRIOR endophenotype. Why? Well, when they are under stressful circumstances, the stress gives them added dopamine and adrenaline. This increases motivation and reflexes, and it is just the right amount of dopamine and adrenaline and they are not anxious. Their brains respond better under these conditions. In fact, the best MMA fighters have been found to have fast COMT activity. This genotype is referred to as Val/Val.
The Val/Met genotype is considered normal.
Are there more nuances to this? Absolutely yes. There are many complicating factors such as how MTHFR status affects methylation of the COMT enzyme. Also, how estrogen affects dopaminergic activation of the prefrontal cortex also throws a curveball into the simplified model illustrated above. However, overall the above model holds true for most situations and that is why it is important to look at this issue for any individual concerned about passing on anxiety producing traits to their children.
Can you test for COMT? The answer is yes and we do this at Gates Brain Health. We are working with family plans to help mothers and fathers prevent anxiety years down the line for their children.
If there is anything we can do to answer your questions or help with your concerns about heritability and anxiety, let us know.
Lastly, we have an amazing recipe for Palmini Pasta that our employee Laura created!
Palmini is a low carb pasta substitute made completely out of a natural plant known as Hearts of Palm. When this plant is cut and cooked in the proper way, its resemblance to regular pasta is remarkable. Not only does it look like pasta, but it can also taste like pasta too! This recipe can be made with other meat or vegetables. It is a very versatile pasta substitute on an elimination diet. It is sold at Sprouts Farmers Market and some Whole Foods Markets.
We hope you enjoyed our second newsletter. Stay tuned next month!